Ezekiel Bodrick's Last Stop Convenience Store sits across the railroad tracks from a ghost town.
His bright red hand-lettered sign, his truck and neighbor Minnie Calhoun's big old car and orange kittens are the only proof of life where S.C. 33 bends into what was Lone Star.
Follow the curve, instead of crossing the tracks, and you pass the weathered wood of a railroad warehouse, the glass windows of a brick storefront, the warped tin roofs and rusting gas pumps of two more stores. All are empty; all are sliding into ruin.
Once Lone Star, with its sawmills and cotton gins, was a busy place, a train stop for mail and cotton bales and passengers, a shopping stop for men and women in want of groceries, clothes, tools, horse collars, a slice from a hoop cheese wheel.
Today, past cotton fields and the small trees and bushes of a nursery live Bodrick, his two sisters, two brothers, a daughter and a niece on 26 acres of family land. The older Bodricks left for better fortune, then returned for retirement.
Of Bodrick's seven surviving children, all but one live in New York. But more land has been purchased and cleared; two children soon will retire around a dirt road's bend.
The Bodricks love home, but for three generations they've left it, lost it, regained it.
A grandfather, John Bodrick, a former slave turned farmer, hightailed it in the 1890s to Florida in a run for his life, a story Ezekiel Bodrick tells to explain the hardships of the past.
John Bodrick and his crew were waiting in line at a Lone Star cotton gin when a white man pulled his wagon ahead of theirs. It was the custom: All whites were served before any blacks.
John Bodrick objected, maybe even stated that objection with a whip.
"He had to leave town," says his grandson. "They told him if he didn't leave town by tomorrow, they would kill him.
"I didn't see my grandfather until I was grown."
Bodrick's father, Johnny Lucius Bodrick, owned land he farmed with hand and foot, mule and plow and wagon. Hit by a car while riding pell-mell to a neighbor's fire, he lost a leg. Despite hard times, he managed to keep his land, 70 acres for cotton, corn, wheat.
Ezekiel Bodrick, born in 1923, remembers working dawn to dusk and lantern light, water hauled from a well, travel by mule and train. The Santee River and Upper Santee Swamp were daunting barriers for those without time, means or transportation.
People could catch the train at the Lone Star station and ride across the water for a penny per mile. A few bold boys walked the railroad trestle. Most couldn't afford a boat, says Bodrick. A trip by wagon was a slow ride to a small wooden bridge at Santee, where I-95 now crosses.
A teen when the Santee Cooper project started in 1939, Bodrick got a kitchen job through the Works Progress Administration. The relief effort put the unemployed to work building public roads, airport runways, dams.
"I stayed in the camp, Camp No. 45. We slept four to a cabin, upstairs and downstairs bunks. There was a little store in the center and a big shower room and a recreation hall where we played cards."
All the land-clearing was by hand, "big two-people saws," and mule. "They would give away logs for nothing, all that cypress and red oak. Or they would burn it for days.
"They were clearing up that swamp to bring light. Before that, there weren't any lights in this area."
Next, Bodrick worked for the Atlantic Coast Line, riding the rails from Richmond, Va., to Savannah, Ga. He decided to leave the South; he says it was "kill or be killed" for blacks. And at home, folks earned just 50 cents a day working someone else's land.Besides, country life was changing. Land once dotted with field hands' and sharecroppers' shacks was emptying. Machinery did the work.
"They were tearing the houses down and wouldn't sell the farmland. A black person would come for an acre of land, and they wouldn't sell," says Bodrick. "White folks were killing themselves trying to hold everybody else down."
Bodrick, known as "Butter" to friends and relatives and "Zeke" to acquaintances, moved to Washington, then New York City, working in the warehouses of the Mayflower Hotel Co. He built his brick Lone Star house in 1992, the store a few years later.
Bodrick never stopped missing home. Neither did his brothers and sisters. Now back, they still want something better. They think a bridge is a starting point.
Brother William Bodrick says: "We did go away to get jobs, but we would like to stay here and live well. A bridge might put a nickel in your pocket."
Yes, ties to land are strong and memories long in South Carolina. "Sixty years ago they were talking about that bridge, and it was never built," says Ezekiel Bodrick. "When we were clearing up that land, they said there would be a bridge."
And now, "I hear that sometime it's hot, sometime it's cold. I've been hearing that same music for years. I say, ‘I'm just going to forget about that bridge.' But some people say, ‘Oh, no, it's coming.'"
Bodrick's gruffness turns wistful. "With my years, it won't make a difference," he says, "But I'd like to see it for a year or two — and see progress.
"If you had a highway through here, and people migrate from Sumter, it might bring business. When you bring in one thing, you bring in another.
"For the youth, it would do good. They wouldn't have to leave, like I did."